4 Factors That Affect International Search Engine Results

May 22nd, 2012

Local search is a commonly used and known term that relates to the way in which search engines tailor results to people living in a particular city area within a country. However, for global marketers “local” generally refers to marketing as it relates to a particular country. Though not common knowledge, search engine results are also tailored based on the user’s country. A search conducted on Google in one country may yield different results from the same search conducted in another.

For the marketer striving to reach a global audience through search, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is that an international search engine optimization initiative must be implemented on a country-by-country basis – a “one-size-fits-all” approach will be less than effective. The opportunity that this present is the ability to target customers differently in each country through SEO; thus enabling more targeted marketing.

To understand how international search engine results are served, it is important to understand the factors search engines such as Google use to determine which results are most relevant on a country-by country basis.

1) Version of Google being used

Google has one global version (google.com) and many country-specific versions. The default version is the one in which the user is located. For example, if a user is located in France the default version of Google is google.fr. Google assumes that anyone using google.fr is French (or fluent in French) and thus the results it serves on this engine are those it believes the most relevant for people in France. The same applies for any country-specific version of Google.

2) Language

The language in which the search query is entered is obviously a major factor in determining user location and result relevance. If a user enters a query in Italian, then most likely that user is in Italy. If the user queries the search engine in a language that is spoken in many countries such as Spanish, Arabic or English, then this is not as strong an indication of location. But it does help Google narrow down the results to one language.

3) Location of the user

Google determines user location via their IP address. This used to be a strong determining factor in the results being served but this is no longer the case especially if the user is using a country-specific version of Google. For example, someone using google.co.uk in Spain (there are many UK expats living in Spain) will receive the same results as they would when entering the identical query when in the UK or any other country. This changes when the user is using the global version of Google – google.com. Results served on google.com do differ based upon the IP of the user.

4) Location of a website

Websites that are identified as being particular to a specific country will generally gain preference in the search results in that country. Website location is determined via a combination of the top level domain (TLD), language, addresses on the site, inbound links, and hosting location. Hosting location has been reduced in significance of late due to the fact that large hosting companies host websites in multiple countries. But the other factors are all used by search engines to determine a site’s relevance to a user’s search query. Google provides an excellent tool in its Webmaster Tools that enables website owners to specify the country in which it wants to target. Using this feature will likely override the other factors though Google will still check the other factors to make sure the content is really relevant.

In summary, targeting global users through search engine optimization is complex as many interrelated factors need to be taken into consideration. But the rewards are well worth the effort because an effective international SEO initiative will stimulate global business growth and expansion.

For information on targeting users via paid search on Google’s Adwords platform, see the page on international ad targeting on Adwords Help.

If you need help planning an international SEO strategy, we would love to hear from you.

Alec Campbell
Managing Partner
Email: acampbell@netgrowthgroup.com

Google Resources: Working with Multilingual Websites

February 17th, 2012

Google has published a series of very helpful posts on their Webmaster Tools blog to guide international marketers in the implementation of international SEO strategies. Here I’ve listed some of the posts most relevant for global marketers working with multilingual websites targeting users in multiple countries:

New Markup for Multilingual Content (2011)

Guidance on how to use the rel=”alternate” hreflang link element to communicate to Google which language version of your site you want to appear in certain circumstances. For example, if your site has been translated into Spanish for audiences in both Spain and, with modifications, for Latin America, this tag will allow you to specific which version should be appear in search results for each audience.

Working with Multilingual Websites (2010)

If your strategy is to target users by the language they speak (as opposed to their physical location), read this article on how to best structure your website and URLs. The article include handy tip on why you shouldn’t use automated translations on your website.

Working with Multi-Regional Websites (2010)

This is a very insightful article from Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, who works for Google in Switzerland. It provides great information on the factors Google uses to determine the relevance of content to people in particular regions. It also includes an invaluable comparison of the different structural methods that can be used to target users in specific countries.

Region Tags in Google Search Results (2009)

Region tags are associated only with generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .net, or .org. If you have a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) such as .co.uk or .ca, your site will automatically be associated with that country. For gTLDs, region tags help differentiate sites that are country-specific in the search results. The tags are automatically assigned when you geo-target your website in Webmaster Tools.

How to Start a Multilingual Site (2008)

This is a great place to start if you haven’t already selected the site structure for your multinational website. If your marketing is specific to the users of a particular country, then you want to structure your site first by geographic location and then by language. If your international marketing only changes by language (e.g. marketing to all Spanish speakers in the world is the same), then you only need be concerned with how to include language translations in your site architecture.

Where in the World is Your Site (2008)

A video from Google analyst Susan Moskwa on how to use the geographical targeting tool in Webmaster Tools and how this tool affects where your website will appear in international search results.

Alec Campbell

10 Steps to Website Globalization

February 14th, 2012

There are now approximately 1.8 billion users throughout the world. They are located in many countries and speak multiple languages. Many of them could be potential customers. But how do you reach them? Not only do you have to speak their language, you have to ensure your website appears where they are searching.

Website globalization can be achieved through market research, translation, localization and optimization. Following this 10 step process will help you rapidly increase site traffic from international search results.

1.       Analyze your target market

Market analysis should begin by understanding the answers to the following questions: What geographic markets are you targeting? Who is your target customer? What languages do they speak? What market opportunities exist for which your company has a product or solution?

Identifying and understanding the characteristics and needs of your market segments will help you define the keywords and content you will use to connect, engage and interact with your target audience.

2.        Research keywords

For each identified customer segment, you can build a list of relevant keywords using these Google’s keyword research tools:

  • Google Adwords Keyword Tool: use the advanced options to research keywords by country and language. Enter a seed keyword term and Google will provide many more suggestions as well as monthly search volumes.
  • Google Insights for Search: use this tool to research trends in keyword search demand over time in each of your target countries.
  • Google Translator: if you don’t speak the languages, and don’t have the budget for translation services, you could start by translating your English language keywords using Google Translator. Be very careful though as automated translation services are far from accurate.

3.       Select the site structure

There are three ways to structure a multilingual site: 1) purchase country-specific domains and set up separate websites, 2) use subdomains for each country, or 3) use subdirectories for each country.  If your international marketing is country-specific, then your site should be structured first by location and then by language. If you plan to market to all speakers of a particular language irrespective of location, then you may only need to incorporate language translations into your site architecture. Google’s Webmaster Tools team provides some great advice in this article: How to Start a Multilingual Site.

4.      Choose the content

The content you publish for your international audience should be directed by the results of your market analysis and keyword research. Much of the content will be similar to the content you provide for your English-language visitors. However, a few new content pages will most likely be required based upon specific market needs.

5.      Translate the content

Professional translation services are expensive but if you are serious about marketing to an international audience, they are a necessity. If you don’t have the budget for a professional service, you can save money by using translation software. But if you do, have a native speaker edit the results to ensure the right message is being communicated.

6.      Localize the content and design

In addition to language translation, be aware of the effect of cultural differences on language and web design. For example, content translated into Spanish may need to be localized for each Spanish-speaking country of Latin America. Also, site design elements are much different in Asian countries than those typical of Western sites. Google’s simple design approach, while working exceptional well for western audiences, has often been cited as a major cause of their failure to dominate in Asian markets.

7.      Optimize the content

By this point, you’re ready to launch your multilingual content. Now it needs to be optimized for country-specific search engine results. The process of optimizing sites for international search results isn’t a great deal different from optimizing sites in English. Most major search engines use similar criteria for ranking results. However, it’s advisable to utilize the services of an experienced SEO professional in each country to give you the added advantage of insider knowledge.

8.      Geo-target using Webmaster Tools

Using Google’s Webmaster Tools, site owners can select settings that tell Google that certain content is meant for users in particular countries. This is fairly straightforward if you have set up multiple country-specific sites. It is a little trickier if you have chosen to use subdirectories or subdomains. In this case, you have to establish each subdirectory or subdomain as a separate “site” within Webmaster Tools.

For more information on using the geographic targeting tool, see this video from Google analyst Susan Moskwa: Where in the World is Your Site.

9.      Acquire links

Another way of informing Google and other international search engines that your content is targeted at a particular country is to acquire links from sites from that country. The more links you acquire from sites in a given country, the more likely it will be to rank highly in that country’s search engine results.

10.    Learn a foreign language

Someone has to respond to the all the foreign language inquiries!

Alec Campbell

5 Useful Tools for Conducting International Keyword Research

February 14th, 2012

Have you ever wondered how search engine results change from country to country? If your company is multinational, it is important for you to know how your site ranks for relevant keyword terms in different countries. If your company is seeking to expand into new geographic markets, international keyword research can provide invaluable insight into local country demand and trends.

The best way to conduct this research (or at least the most interesting) is to travel to your target country. But that’s not always practicable. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to give you access to the world of search from your own computer.

Here are five tools that provide highly useful information into what is happening around the world:

Google Adwords Keywords Tool

Using the advanced option of Google’s Keyword Tool, you can select keywords by country and language. Enter an initial keyword, select a language and/or target countries, and Google will return a list of keyword ideas with the associated monthly volume for each.

For a second source of international keyword research, also consider using Trellian’s Keyword Discovery tool which includes data from many European countries.

Google Insights for Search

Use Google Insights for Search to explore trends in keyword search demand over time. This is a great tool for identifying areas of growing demand for which new market opportunities may exist. There are options to search the hottest trends by country and industry. You can also start with one or more search terms and the tool will provide a list of the hottest related keywords in the country of choice.

Translation Software

If you don’t speak foreign languages, and don’t have the budget for translation services, you could start your research by translating your English language keywords using software such as Google Translator. After translating, use the keyword research tools to further expand your list and obtain search volumes.

But be warned. Google Translator is a very useful tool but is far from fool-proof. I wouldn’t use it if I were aiming to impress a native speaker!

Proxy Server

Search engine results are often tailored to a user’s location. Location is determined by IP address.  To understand how results differ from country to country, you can use a proxy server to search using an international IP address.  This can be very useful for competitive analysis. Try this site for a selection of international proxy servers: http://www.proxy4free.com.

Rank Checking Software

To understand how well your site is ranking in multiple countries, try using a rank checking software that has international capabilities. Rank Tracker by Link-Assistant.com provides ranking results for the major search engines in practically every country you can think of. You can also use it to keep tabs on the rankings of your competitors.

Have fun researching the world of search. There are many untapped opportunities out there just waiting to be discovered.

Alec Campbell